European Championship 2004

17-19 September 2004, Jersey

Take 20 players representing 13 countries across Western Europe; bring them together on four beautifully tended lawns for three days; and with a lot of hard work by hosts and management you have one of the most intensive and enjoyable celebrations of croquet in which I have been privileged to take part - the 12th European Championships, held like seven of the previous 11 in the well-appointed premises of the Jersey Croquet Club.

Most of us arrived on Thursday 16th September by various flights.  Manager Stephen Mulliner did not join us till the following morning, but in the meantime we all had copies of a comprehensive full-colour booklet, expertly produced by Martin Hodge of the Jersey Club, to inform us of the format and schedule, the players' relative rankings, past years' results and more besides.

Friday was devoted to five rounds of block games, from which four out of five players in each block would proceed to the knockout stage, with seedings determined by the block results.  With fast lawns, tight hoops and two-hour time limits, nearly a third of the games went to time - mostly those between the less expert players such as myself and Philip Archer (Guernsey), against whom I had results of 9-8 and 18-16.  (Our second game was a substitute for the games we had both been scheduled to play against Kevin Garrad from the Isle of Man, who was ill and unable to play in the afternoon and evening.)  There were no major upsets in the block results; the top eight seeds took the top eight places, and I came third in my block as expected, behind Paolo de Petra from Italy and Peter Payne from Switzerland - though if Kevin Garrad had been fit to play I might well have been pushed into fourth place and only narrowly got into the knockout by virtue of that one-hoop win over Philip.  Paolo was seeded third in the whole event, and won all his block games, as did top seed Stephen Mulliner (who failed in his sextuple peel attempts but did complete a straight triple) and second seed Matthew Burrow (who did triples against all his four opponents).  Fourth seed Samir Patel from England was forced into second place in his block, on points, by Sarah Burrow of Jersey.

In the knockout on Saturday I got off to a good start against Edoardo Lualdi from Italy, running hoop 1 (to the north boundary, if I'm not confusing this with another game) with each of my balls before he started scoring, but then my shooting deteriorated, he began making breaks and he ended up with a +22 win.  All the top eight seeds got through the first round, and the top four were victorious in the quarter-finals.  The quarter-finals and semifinals consisted of best-of-three matches, but none of them went to a third game, and by Saturday evening the finalists were identified (to no one's great surprise) as being the 2002 winner Matthew Burrow and last year's winner Stephen Mulliner.

Those of us eliminated from the main event went into a consolation event, still with two-hour time limits.  I was doing quite well in this at the end of Saturday, with a +20 against John Swabey of Belgium (my only peg-out of the tournament) and a hard-fought +1 on time, in driving rain, against Fernando De Ansorena of Spain, but losses on the final day to Gary McElwain (Wales) and Richard Sowerby (Jersey) put me well out of contention, though offset by yet another +1 on time against Bruno Hess from Germany.  That left me free to watch the last game of the best-of-five knockout final - a match that was well worth watching.  Stephen had done a TPO on Matthew's ball and won the first game, and Matthew had replied with a triple peel on his own ball in the second.  In the third, Stephen laid up for a sextuple, but Matthew hit the long shot and came close to winning, only to break down at rover; Stephen got in again and completed the sextuple, with an almost impossible half-jump through rover from a severe angle which sent the peelee a yard or so out of the hoop and got the striker's ball just far enough through to make a roquet and finish.  Matthew took the fourth game with another TP, but Stephen Mulliner responded in kind in the final game to become European Champion for the eighth time.

As well as some spectacular croquet, the championships featured a few memorable incidents at the sides of the lawns.  Two on the final day stand out: when Samir's shot in the third-place play-off was obstructed by a worm and Matthew swooped upon it and made a convincing threat to swallow it, and when Fernando sat down incautiously on a backward-tilting bench and went over into the boundary hedge.  The hedge was dense and thorny, as I knew from losing a ball in it for several minutes earlier in the day, but fortunately Fernando was wearing a hat.  The dinners in local hostelries were also entertaining, even though John Swabey didn't get far with his attempts to inspire us all to multilingual song.  Altogether I can recommend the European Championships to anyone who may have the chance of selection - though this probably means someone else will be going next year unless I can fight my way up the Scottish rankings in the interim.

Full results and photographs can be found on the Jersey Croquet Club website.

Fergus McInnes